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Consumer protection and problem gambling against online gambling in European Union

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A majority of players do not suffer from problem gambling. However, those that do must be fully accounted for given the associated social costs for the player, his or her family and society as a whole. All gamblers need protection against fraudulent services. For this reason regulators seek to ensure that all games offered are controlled, fair (i.e. that random number generators are in conformity with technical standards and in line with the rules for each game) and free from crime. Transparency is key.

Problem gambling

The need to protect players and to prevent problem gambling is invoked when restricting the offer of on-line gambling services to consumers.

Problem gambling is often described as an urge to gamble despite harmful negative consequences or a need to stop. To assess the extent of problem gambling in the population of a country, comprehensive surveys, so called ‘prevalence’ studies, are carried out. The two most widely used screening instruments to identify problem gamblers are DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. for pathological gambling, American Psychiatric Association, 1994. A publication of the 5th edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) is foreseen for May 2013.) and SOGS (The South Oaks Gambling Screen, Lesieur & Blume, 1987. Both tools (DSM and SOGS) also exist in versions adapted to adolescents: DSM-IV-J (juvenile), DSM-IV-MR-J (multiple response-juvenile) and SOGS-RA (revised for adolescents).). Depending on the responses to a list of questions, the player is defined as a problem gambler (SOGS), a potential pathological gambler (DSM-IV) or a probable pathological gambler (SOGS and DSM-IV), also referred to as a gambling addict (see below).

The Commission is aware of nationwide prevalence studies for problem gambling in eight Member States (BE, DK, EE, FI, DE, NL, SE and UK.) and seven more (ES, HU, IT, LT, RO and SK.) have carried out some studies of limited scope (either regional or on specific age categories, mostly adolescents). The level of problem gambling in the eight Member States that have carried out nationwide prevalence studies varies from 0.5% of the entire population in the UK to 6.5% in Estonia (M. Griffiths, Problem gambling in Europe: An overview, Appex Communications, April 2009.). As regards the prevalence of problem gambling in the field of on-line gambling in the EU, only four Member States (BE, EE, NL and UK.) provide nationwide statistics, three others (FI, DE and MT.) provide some partial information (surveys of limited scope, carried out on a certain age group or concerning only a certain type of on-line games).

These studies suggest that the main factors that influence problem gambling are the following:

(1) Event frequency. The briefer the time between the game taking place and the opportunity to place a stake the greater the risk.
(2) Payout interval. The time between placing of the stake and the result. The shorter this is the greater the risk.
(3) Accessibility and social environment.
(4) Chasing losses or being close to winning, The greater the pay-out and probability of winning, the greater the delusion that lost stakes can be won back and therefore the increased risk (this is also linked to “excitement” or “dream effect”).
(5) Perceived skills and “involvement”. The possibility of getting involved in the event being gambled on and of using one’s own skills to assess the chances of winning provide evidence of the ‘near-miss’ psychology. This strengthens the feeling that one is in control of the game, thus increasing the risk. This includes variation of the stake. Note that this effect may be enhanced when some element of skill rather than purely chance is perceived to be a characteristic of the game.
(6) Commercial communications that could trigger vulnerable groups.

In this respect different types of games or different kinds of bets might pose different risks to players. For example, fast pay out slot machines, scratch cards and casino games are often considered to be the most problematic in this respect. Lottery games that are run on a weekly basis are considered less risky (although suffering from factor (4) mentioned above) than those run on shorter intervals (because of factors (1) and (2)). Sports betting and poker are considered to suffer more from the risk identified under point (5) above. “Live” sports betting suffers additionally from the risk set out under point (1).

To date across the Member States the instruments that have been used to try to limit excessive “problem gambling” in on-line services are those applied to all gambling, viz.,

(1) Age limits,
(2) Self-limitation (financial and time) and self-exclusion,
(3) Information/warnings/self tests (more easily applied on-line than off-line),
(4) Banning the use of credit,
(5) Reality checks,
(6) Diligence obligation for the on-line operator,
(7) Restricting certain forms of games or bets that are considered to be the most risky (e.g. casino games or in sports betting restricting bets to final results only), and
(8) Other (e.g. limits on commercial communication – restrictions on the use of certain media, sales promotions and sign-up bonuses or free practice games).

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